Why the Umiam Dam spells danger for Meghalaya?


SHILLONG, Jul 13: The recent bridge collapse incident at Dimapur, Nagaland which claimed 4 lives has called for serious introspection on the part of the authorities concerned not only in Nagaland but the Northeast region as a whole.

The incident which could have been prevented has drawn flaks from several quarters even as they maintained that had the government taken serious note of the danger the bridge poses, loss of lives could have been prevented.

This accident has served as a wake-up call for many people, the effect of which has also found its way to Meghalaya.

The recent cracks on the footpath of the Umiam hydro-electricity dam along the National Highway 40 that connects Guwahati to Shillong bridge has raised the concerns of the citizens who fear that this bridge, which has already crossed 50 years, might one day result in a catastrophe if no proper planning is done on time.

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Recently, the cracks were seen on Umiam dam but fears were allayed by MPDCL officials who stated that only the pavement along the highway on the dam was damaged a couple of days back after two night buses met with an accident on the spot.

An article written by Patrick McCully which appeared in the International Rivers titled "Getting Old: Dam Aging and Decommissioning" reported that around the world, some 5,000 large dams are now more than 50 years old, and the number and size of the dams reaching their half century is rapidly increasing

According to the International Commission on Large Dams 1991 Congress, "in the future attention and activity [will] be more and more shifted from the design and construction of new dams to the restoration of the structural and operational safety of existing dams".

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The explanation for the cracks however, doesn't seem to appease the people as they stated that the dam spells danger for the state.

"By simply remarking that the cracks was due to an accident is a mere excuse. It is a known fact that the lifeline of the bridge is already over. It is time for the government to look for other alternatives if a major catastrophe is to be prevented," said a concerned citizen Michael Kharmuti said.

Meanwhile, another concerned citizen Mebantei Kharkongor commented "The government needs to look for other routes to go to Guwahati because we can never trust the Umiam Dam now… It could collapse anytime. There is a need for all the stakeholders to work together and come up with a logical plan."

In the year 2015, Meghalaya Power Generation Corporation Limited celebrated the Golden Jubilee of the Umiam Hydro Electric Project Stage I which was conceived in the 1950s. It was informed that the construction of the project was formally inaugurated by Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, on January 9, 1960 and the first unit of the project was commissioned on November 9, 1965.

The Umiam Lake was formed by the building three dams so as to contain the water in the Umiam valley which is flowing in the river Umiam. These three dams were strategically planned in order to harness the yield from the runoff of 221 Sq.Km. of the Umiam catchment at the dam site.

"The dam is in a pathetic state of affairs. Would we see more casualties in the near future? The solution lies with immediate auditing on the lifespan of the dam to prevent a situation similar to the Nagaland bridge collapse incident," said a resident of Laitkor Christopher Gatphoh.

Whether the government and the MPDCL take this matter seriously or not, the condition of the dam cannot be overlooked. It is high time for the authorities concerned to brainstorm on the ways and means to divert vehicular movement along the this stretch while a plausible alternative to build a new dam or rework on the existing one.

By Ibankyntiew Mawrie

DISCLAIMER: The opinion expressed in the article are the writer's own and TNT-The Northeast Today may not subscribe to the same views